Throwback Thursday

March 17, 2009 — Saint Patrick’s Day

I spent a lot of my childhood growing up in a nicotine-stained bowling alley, and it was there that we found our dog. Dogs were common  at this particular bowling alley. Even the owner frequently brought “her babies” to work with her— two Miniature Schnauzers and a Scottish Terrier. So, it didn’t feel strange at all to see a Labrador pup on the counter one day, and it didn’t feel strange at all sliding him off the counter and walking out with him either.

pflomar09

Admittedly, I tried calling my mother before I chose the pup, but she wasn’t answering her cell phone. (This was a pretty normal occurrence, too.) I called her boyfriend, Steve, to see if they were together, but they weren’t. When I told him that I was about to be a new dog owner, he laughed and said: “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than for permission.”

My friend, Summer, and I sat in a truckbed drinking sweet tea from large Styrofoam cups and talking about names outside of the bowling alley. We made a diamond with our legs and let the pup play between us. Mostly, he just slept. The street lights hissed a brownish gold, and we could hear the men smoking outside the bowling alley door threatening and laughing at each other.

pflomar09_1

I wondered then what this pup would be like when he grew old. I wondered if he would be like my family, become like us, strangely attached to our anger and pride and fear. I watched the sunlight drag across the pavement and wondered then too what it was like to take a child from a mother you’ve never seen.

A Winter Passing

I have been taking an informal break from blogging and answering questions recently.

In the last month, I learned that one of my dogs had died. The news hit me heavier than I would care to admit. I know I have mentioned my dog and shared photos of Bandit before (x). I took this particular photograph before setting out on the cold, bright morning of our last walk together:

IMG_20140211_223613

I have thought deeply about our last walk, tried to recall what thoughts burdened my mind that day or what birds we saw in passing, but I can’t seem to remember anymore.

During his final years, Bandit contracted pneumonia. He never fully recovered and stayed on regular medication during winter months. He also seemed to have arthritis though it was never formally diagnosed by a veterinarian. We watched him age in ways of peace. We watched him stop chasing cars and youth. Australian Shepherds, a bloodline of herders, the working cattle dog and time-honored instinct to nip ankles, a dog who could have defeated Achilles. We watched him shepherd closer to home as a porch dog in the autumn of life. My father told me Bandit died in his sleep on a Friday.

The sadness of Bandit’s death has hit me in different degrees. He was always a vocal dog. Bandit would howl at the sirens of ambulances veering down a distant road. He would say his version of I love you and pull back his teeth to smile, writhing all over, exposing both gum and chipped tooth, upon our arrival home. Bandit looked terrifying when he did this, and his mimicry made us  laugh more than anything else. For the first few nights after his death, I listened to the sirens in Clarksville and remembered his shameless howl. Even now, alone in my apartment, I struggle to write about Bandit, his adventures, and the all too familiar sentiment that it is hard to lose a friend.

I’ll close this entry, my study of grief, with what I think is whispered too often or sometimes not enough. A familiar phrase said across the living room couch during the night with my hand buried in the dark fur of his back: Lie down, lie down.

Q&A: A Series of Short Answers

[Dog-faced Atheist] Ask
How did NaNoWriMo 2013 go for you? Were you able to finish and what would you call the central theme of what you were writing?

For NaNoWriMo 2013, I worked on my title Adultery in the Guest Bedroom. I was able to hit the 50,000 word goal, but I did not finish the novel. There were several themes that I was going for in the project. If I had to choose a central guiding principle, it probably would have been: “Do not forget what it means to be a human being, whether this loss be out of fear, valid argument, or personal philosophy. Do not judge those who do forget, because not everyone is as strong as they would like to be.”

[Dog-faced Atheist] Ask
If you had to put a warning label on your blog…. what would it be?

Reading Dog-faced Atheist may cause eyestrain, deep thoughts (rare), raised eyebrows, furrowing of the forehead, and self-inflicted wounds caused by the proverbial facepalm.

[Dog-faced Atheist] Ask
Will you be at AWP this year in Seattle? Do you have any tips for newbies based on last year?

Unfortunately, I am not attending AWP Seattle this year. However, I have been working on a collaborative entry about “surviving AWP” for my blog. That entry should be posted around the second or third week of February.

che

The line-up of featured presenters looks as impressive as always.  Annie Proulx, the keynote speaker, is sure to be an interesting panel. I would love to hear Sherman Alexie, Gary Snyder, and Tobias Wolff among others. I have met Richard Blanco, Ben Fountain, and Sharon Olds before. All great readings. Ben Fountain is a wonderfully funny guy if you’re looking for a laugh.

[Dog-faced Atheist] Ask
What are your thoughts on evolution?

I am not sure if I fully understand the intent or desired response for this question. To me, evolution is just another small battle in the proposition of moving in the direction of a more logical society. The idea that biological evolution should be taken out of schools in Tennessee is preposterous. Anti-evolution bills are as astounding as they are absurd.

[Dog-faced Atheist] Ask
Does your family know that you’re an atheist?

For the most part, yes. My family acknowledges my atheism in different ways and to varying degrees. For example, my dad doesn’t like the word “atheist” and prefers to call me “non-religious” instead. While my family does know about my atheism, I think the philosophy makes them notably uncomfortable. The dogs don’t seem to mind nearly as much.

Positivity Week: Day 5 and 6

Positivity Week Prompt

Day 5: Your Impact
What positive impact (or impacts) do you hope to leave behind when you go? Do you hope that positive impacts you leave behind will change the world for the better?

Growing up, I felt continually oppressed in East Tennessee. I carry the suffering of place with me everywhere I go, but I do not have active plans to change the social landscape there.

flickr1

National Cemetery by Natalie
Greeneville, Tennessee

What makes an act eternal? The generation or articulation of new thought, creation of an outlet, and/or reduction of suffering? I am an inherently selfish person, but I long to act in meaningful ways. I do not know if I will ever impact the place where I grew up, and I think to theorize on this possibility suggests a willingness to adhere to the philosophy of determinism.

This past summer, I worked and taught playwriting at the Appalachian Young Writers’ Program at LMU. I am not sure if I impacted someone during my time there, but I know the impact such organizations have had on me. I may one day change the mountains of East Tennessee, but for now, I will exist within the act of throwing stones.

Day 6: Something Funny
Share what makes you laugh. And I mean, really laugh to the point where your face hurts, your stomach hurts and you’re crying. There is nothing better than a good laugh.

Basset Hounds are the silliest dogs in the world. They are basically the floppy, depressed versions of Corgis. The Eeyores of the dog world. I love their long ears, thick paws, and layers of love. (Layers of love being just another way to talk about wrinkles.)

basset

Photo by Rob Carr

Ever see a Basset Hound run or look at one of their “beauty shots” from dog shows? It’s absurd. Too much.

The first dog I ever wanted was a Basset Hound. Later, I would live across the road from a family who owned one named Flash. The hilarity of his name only increased when the family bought a sleek Weimaraner, who would occasionally trample or hurdle Flash during his pursuits. From my window, I would watch Flash leisurely walk up and down the side of the street and laugh. Sometimes, Flash would start trailing a scent and run into a mailbox or bicycle.

Basset Hounds are loud, messy, gassy dogs, and they make me smile.

Southern Festival of Books 2013

One of my favorite fall events, The Southern Festival of Books, has come to another close today. I am sad to admit I was feeling sick for its 25th Annual Celebration, but going to readings and panels at the Legislative Plaza has become a cornerstone of the season a time to see familiar faces, eat out of food trucks, and take pictures of mums. I wouldn’t miss it. It took some thought, but I finally figured it up; this weekend was my fifth year at the festival.

SFB13

Kate DiCamillo, a children’s writer and novelist, was the first author I met in 2009. I asked Kate if she knew Margaret Atwood.

“Not personally,” she said.

“I think you two have the same hair stylist.”

Kate laughed and said nobody had ever compared her to Margaret before. She cupped her hand around the side of her face and with a playful look lingering in her corner of her eye said, “I’m honored.”

I’ve come to realize I say equally crazy shit to authors all the time.

I remember feeling cold in 2009. I kept wishing I had brought a jacket with me instead of my mother. I didn’t look at the author line-up or plan anything beforehand; I just went. I remember 2009 as the year I dumped books all over this deep-voice author, who I found out later was Silas House (and yes, I bought one of his books after that but was too shy to ask him to sign it and yes, I’ll admit that I first read Silas out of apology, rather than interest), and as the year William Gay was sick and couldn’t attend his session.

tribute1

William Gay, Photo Credit: Oxford American

I remember thinking William had seemed okay only a few months before. Later that night, I visited the Bluebird Cafe for the first time to hear Marshall Chapman play, and William wasn’t there either. I held The Long Home and Twilight against my chest and started to feel something like worry. I love going back to the plaza now and hearing strangers all around me talk about William, because when I am at the Southern Festival of Books, I can feel him there.

Today, when I drove to Nashville for the festival, I felt like aged whiskey. The parking garage was the familiar shape of a bottle. I knew which panels would have the best taste and burn the longest. I have met so many writers that the years run together. I like imagining the festival when it began in 1989 as being as beautiful and powerful as it is today, and I thank Humanities Tennessee for their dedication, and if nothing else, for putting up with us lot.